This was counterproductive. She’d been sent on this blind date to take her mind off her problems but the guy sitting opposite her wasn’t the least bit distracting. He looked more disgruntled about being here than her, and that was saying something. She should have made an excuse instead of trusting Amy and her Online dating skills. Being anywhere would be better that awkwardly watching this man who looked like he’d just had his toenails forcibly removed. The Vegan Food Festival was on this weekend, she remembered as she fiddled with the linen napkin. She wasn’t a vegan but if they had some Hari Krishna drumming, singing and dancing then it would be a thousand times better than being seated at this table.
The guy that Amy had picked as her date had hardly said a word since arriving and he wasn’t eye-candy either. She glanced up at him as she topped up her glass of wine. His suit was a poor fit, his hair brought back memories of the bowl-cut, and he gave off the perfect aura of geekiness. Expressionless, he was avoiding looking at her by staring at the window like he was searching for the escape lever that triggered the emergency exit.
She couldn’t understand his attitude. She’d dressed to impress tonight and didn’t think she looked that bad. Her long warm brown hair was brushed so that it gleamed, her dress was pretty, and she’d done a decent job of putting on her makeup. She knew how to best show her features, which meant his lack of interest wasn’t because she hadn’t made an effort.
She started to tap the Hari Krishna theme tune on the table as she examined him. It was lucky he looked so testy, it meant that it wasn’t hard to fight her urge to fix his over-combed hair into a style that wasn’t so unflattering. She could feel her fingers itching to run themselves through his thick hair, pushing that fringe off his face and messing up that horribly flattened matt to give it that just-out-of-bed look. And what she wouldn’t do, just to do something, anything, with those awful glasses he was wearing. They looked like something her Grandfather would have discarded into one of those collection bins to be sent to the sight-impaired refugees. She wondered if he’d come like this on purpose, or if he made a habit of trying to look this unappealing.
What did it matter? She exhaled her annoyance as she acknowledged that this date represented two hours of her life that she would never get back. She could be partaking in an all-you-can-eat tofu competition right now, learning how to make dairy-free cheese, or hearing how beef farming is destroying the Amazon, all while joying meat-free BBQ. She quietly wondered if they’d mind her adding bacon to her vegan burger.
Of course, technically there was nothing stopping her from leaving. Walking out was always an option, but they had already ordered. She wasn’t the type to leave without paying and didn’t have the luxury to dish out money without eating the overpriced meal. And there was still half a bottle of wine that had her name written all over it.
She refilled her glass.
It had been weeks since she’d been out. And this was the result. More money than she cared to think about was invested in this car-crash. It wasn’t fair. She narrowed her eyes as she willed it to be raining over the park that held the Vegan Food Festival. It was a spiteful request, but it would make her feel better about being here.
“What do you do for a living?” she heard herself asking.
She cringed, she’d done it, broken the silence with the world’s most predictable, boring and cliché question. She watched as his eyes lifted to her, only to flick back towards the window and the inky black emergency-hatch-free view it offered.
“Accountant,” he said without looking back to her.
“Nice,” she grimaced, both at her automatic response and at the obviousness of his profession.
She had been guessing lawyer, prison guard, torture chamber operator, or possibly manicurist. Any job that required an absence of humor, sympathy, and was oblivious to pain or discomfort, would be a good fit for Arthur Scott. He certainly seemed unaffected by the searing glare she was currently sending him and was making no effort to continue her woeful attempt to make conversation.
She probably should have given up there, but she couldn’t let go of the feeling that he’d been dishonest with her. He was nothing like his profile. The picture had him smiling a carefree grin that lit up his blue eyes. His chestnut brown hair was brushed off his face and was styled. Remembering how good it looked was the reason why she’d had to curling her hands to prevent them from reaching across the table to try to recreate the look. The glasses were absent in the photo too, and he wasn’t slumped over and avoiding looking at the camera.
His pose suggested that he was fit, sexy and was fun to be around. This was echoed by his description which claimed him to be adventurous, successful, grounded and looking for a partner to share his dreams with. Whoever wrote that had never met the man sitting at the table with her.
She reached over and topped up her glass again.
“Why are you here, Art?” she’d had enough of this, she might as well be blunt. It wasn’t like she was going to see him again.
“It’s Arthur, not Art,” he growled before asking, “You don’t like this restaurant?”
“No, I mean yes, I hate this restaurant, it’s overpriced and dull,” rattled that he’d responded with more than a single word, she felt the words pour out of her, “But that’s not what I’m asking. Why did you bother? Why did you agree to this date?”
He lifted his eyes and levelled her a look that made her squirm.
“You think I’m being impolite?” she grimaced, “Maybe, but I’m curious, I’m not your type.”
“And what is my type?” his cold expression didn’t change.
“I don’t know,” she fidgeted. His cool piercing crystal blue eyes were making her feel like she’d somehow offended him, but she was on a slippery downhill slope and couldn’t stop, “Conservative, timid, compliant, wears designer brands and never has a hair-out-of-place, basically the complete opposite to me.”
“I see,” he dropped his eyes and dipped his head to the right. His jaw was tightened, and his facial muscles flinched, “If this is your evaluation of me, then why are you still here?”
“I’m blunt, overly honest, and sometimes insensitive, but I try not to be rude,” she looked at her clasped hands, “And I can’t afford to walk out, dinner hasn’t been served yet.”
“You’re waiting on the food?” he looked surprised, “That’s what’s keeping you here?”
“Did I mention that I often put my foot in my mouth?” she looked away as she reformulated her statement, “What I meant to say was that I can’t afford to throw money away. I’m on a tight budget and this is an expensive restaurant.”
“I thought you were a software engineer. That’s what your profile said,” he glanced back at her, “Or was the whole thing a lie?”
“I don’t lie, Art,” she growled back at him, “Work isn’t a problem, I’ve just re-signed my contract.”
“Arthur, not Art,” he reasserted before asking, “Isn’t it a well-paid profession?”
“Yes,” she exhaled, “But apparently that doesn’t matter.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” small lines formed between his eyebrows.
“Just ignore me,” she exhaled, “The bank and I are having a disagreement.”
He said nothing but lifted an eyebrow. She closed her eyes and exhaled. He was sitting watching her and, for some unknown reason, she felt the need to explain everything to him.
“I’m a contractor,” she lifted her eyes to him, “Which means from the Bank’s point of view I rank as self-employed. As a single woman that classifies me as ‘high-risk’ and, irrespective of my income, disqualifies me for a mortgage.”
“You want to buy a house?” he asked.
“Not just any house,” she closed her eyes, “It’s the house I live in. I’ve rented it since I left home and I love it. The owner has given me first option, but he can’t delay putting it onto the market any longer. And now I’m out of time.”
“There’s nothing you can do?” he asked.
“I wish that there was,” she smiled as she did a half shrug, “I’m hitting a brick wall. I don’t have the whole deposit and the Bank won’t speak to me. The only solution is to find someone who’d be prepared to invest in the house and sign a joint mortgage with me. And unfortunately, everyone that I know is broke, unwilling to commit, or untrustworthy.”
“I see,” he mumbled.
“I’m all out of options,” She smiled in defeat as she topped up her glass again.
She took a long drink as the waiter placed the plates down on the table. The portion sizes were criminally small, and the food was plain. She made a mental note, if she ever went on a blind date again, she would pick the restaurant.
“My friend, Amy,” she lifted her eyes to him as she smiled and answered his original question, “She’s the reason why I’m here. She seemed to think this would take my mind off things. I’m sorry, you didn’t need to hear my tragic backstory.”
“Garry,” he looked at her, “My friend. He’s the reason I’m here.”
“So, we do have something in common,” she laughed.
“That’s not all,” he dropped his face, but his eyes stayed focused on her, “I’m also saving to buy an apartment.”
“Welcome to the club,” she smiled as she stabbed a scallop and ate it, “How’s it going?”
“Slowly,” he looked away, “With too many sacrifices.”
“Tell me about it,” she smiled as she felt herself relaxing, “Barista made coffee, a glass of wine in the evenings, those embarrassingly entertaining gossip magazines, and going to the movies on the weekend. I miss spontaneous spending without weighing up what I’m going to have to do without as a result.”
“I wish my problem was that simple,” he looked out of the window at the non-existent view, “I could put up with instant coffee.”
“Why isn’t it?” she asked while she chased another scallop around the empty plate.
“It’s nothing,” his jaw tightened.
“You said that like it was something,” she shrugged, “Don’t be shy, whatever you’re facing can’t be that bad.”
“You don’t want to know,” he sighed, “It’s personal.”
“Come on Art, you might as well tell me,” she put down her fork as put her elbows on the table and balance her head in her hands, “I’ve offloaded my troubles on you and we’re not going to see each other again.”
He looked at her without answering.
“I’m the perfect stranger, Art,” she shrugged, “We have no friends in common and I can guarantee that I won’t tell anyone else your secrets.”
“It’s Arthur,” he mumbled in a distant voice before he sighed and shrugged in a defeated way and mumbled, “I’ve moved back in with my parents.”
“Really,” she bit her lip, “I’m not laughing. The sauce was a little too spicy, that’s all.”
“This is why I didn’t want to tell you,” his eyes narrowed, “I knew you’d laugh.”
“It could be worse, Art,” she couldn’t hide the laugh now that he’d given her permission, “I’m not sure how, but it could be far worse.”
“Thanks for that,” he said in a cold voice.
“I’m sorry,” she laughed, “Did I mention that I’m known to be a little insensitive?”
“I’ve noticed,” he exhaled and looked at his hands as he added, “It’s not permanent.”
“Relax, Art,” she smiled, “I’m about to be homeless, I’m not in a position to judge.”
“And it is totally unnecessary,” he huffed, his eyes distant like he was thinking about something, “I could have the deposit tomorrow if my family wasn’t so draconian.”
“What? Really? How?” she flung the questions at him.
“I have an inheritance,” he grimaced his eyes refocusing on her, “My Grandfather set up a trust when he passed away.”
“Then what are you doing?” she frowned, “Why haven’t you brought that apartment yet?”
“It’s not that simple,” he twisted his wine glass between two fingers, “He put conditions on accessing the funds.”
“Like what?” she asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said as the wine glass stopped moving mid-twist, “It’s not your problem.”
“True,” she shrugged, “But if I had money available to me, I’d be doing everything I could to meet those conditions.”
“I shouldn’t have said anything,” he shook his head as he closed his eyes for a moment, “You have no idea.”
“So, tell me?” she smiled, “I’m all ears.”
“Serenity,” he exhaled her name.
“It was your Grandfather, Art,” she watched him shuffle himself, turning his body away from her, “He’s not going to impose something on you that’s illegal or immoral.”
“Leave it alone, Serenity,” he growled.
“Come on, Art,” she lifted both eyebrows, “I’ve been rejected by the bank and I’m about to be thrown out of my dream house, what’s worse than that?”
“Marriage,” Arthur spoke the word with a huff, “That’s the primary condition.”
“Are you serious?” she laughed softly, “You just need to get hitched?”
“You say that like it’s easy,” he glanced at her before looking away.
“But it is easy,” she laughed, “What’s the problem?”
“I don’t want to talk about this,” he spoke through his teeth, “Can we change the subject?”
“No, you’ve got me interested now,” she looked at him closely, “I don’t get it? You’re not a bad looking guy, you’re educated, and you have a stable job. You’re a good catch. You’d have to know someone who’d be prepared to marry you?”
“I don’t want,” he said the words slowly as he paused mid-sentence to clench his jaw, “To talk about this.”
“I’d do it,” she added.
“You’d do what?” he asked with his eyes closed.
“I’d marry you,” she shrugged and smiled as she watched his eyes fly open.
“You’d what?” he blinked.
“I’d marry you,” she said again, “Why not?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he looked away while rubbing the middle of his forehead with circular motions, “You’re being absurd.”
“Why?” she shrugged, “It would solve both our problems. I’m guessing that your inheritance would be enough to top-up the deposit for the house and together we’d get a mortgage.”
“Serenity, stop it,” he exhaled, “This isn’t a joke.”
“I’m not laughing,” she retorted, “I’m serious, Art. I would marry you.”
“I thought you weren’t my type?” he said, “What happened to your assurances that I’d never see you again?”
“I’m adapting,” she laughed off his annoyance, “Because now we have a reason to see each other.”
“Is this trivial to you?” he glared at her, “If you’re trying to insult me, then congratulations, job done.”
“I’m sorry, Art,” she spoke softly, “It wasn’t my intention to insult you. I’m suggesting this because it’s the solution to both our problems.”
“You’re suggesting a trade-off?” he said the words slowly as if speaking to a child, “You’d be prepared to marry me in exchange for me committing to buying your house.”
“Yes,” she smiled, “That’s it.”
“What do I get out of this?” he scoffed, “It sounds like a one-sided deal.”
“You want to buy an apartment?” she reminded him, “A house is a better investment than an apartment. You’ll end up with more money in the end and, let’s face it, your inheritance will buy you less every single day that you don’t spend it. The housing market is moving fast. If you don’t invest now, if you wait, you’ll find that it won’t be enough to buy anything once you are finally in a position to access it.”
He was looking out the window, one arm folded over his chest, the other hand was held up with its fingers mid-forehead propping his head up. Silent, his face expressionless, but she could see his pupils darting back and forward. She smiled, he was considering it, and that was all the encouragement she needed. The possibilities unfolded before her and she allowed herself to immerse herself in the fantasy that this represented.
“Think about it,” she sighed as she continued, “It’s the perfect solution. The bank will grant us a mortgage if we have the full deposit and apply together. We could jointly own the house.”
“You’re assuming a lot,” his fingers moved to rub the bridge of his nose, pushing up his glasses as he did, before returning to his forehead, “We don’t even know each other and what makes you think I want to invest my money in your house?”
“Both of those objections can be easily fixed,” she smiled, “Getting to know me isn’t that hard, and you’ll understand what a good buy the house is when you see it. You can’t lose.”
“All this coming from the woman who was waiting for the food to be served before walking out,” he shook his head, “Now you want to spend the rest of your life with me?”
“I’m suggesting an arrangement,” she cringed, “A contract marriage in which we both will benefit. I’m not proposing lifelong unconditional love to you, Art.”
“But you’re talking about a legal Marriage,” he stressed, “It’s an insane idea.”
“You’re right, it just might be a stupid plan,” she laughed, “But what if it did work? What if this was the solution to both our problems?”
“My problems,” he mumbled, “Are bigger than that.”
“I’m just saying that it’s an option worth considering,” she said, “Don’t discount it until you’ve properly examined it.”
“You’re drunk, crazy and I’m not that desperate yet,” he snarled as the waiter put the bill on the table.
“I’m not afraid to admit that I’m slightly drunk, a little desperate, and have been called crazy before,” she shrugged, “There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s been plenty of amazing things come from drunk, desperate and crazy people.”
He didn’t answer her, but he wasn’t avoiding her gaze. His eyes shone and she could see the more life in his face than he’d had at the start of this date. If nothing else, the change in him had made suggesting this worth it for her. She was starting to see something in Arthur Scott that wasn’t there before.
“I’m not suggesting that we go into this blind,” she continued, “We would have to negotiate a contract and have plans in place for all eventualities. We’d both have to be one-hundred-percent on-board for this to stand any chance of success.”
“It’s a possibility,” she focused on him, “An opportunity and maybe an answer. It’s worth thinking about.”
He looked away without saying anything.
“You still don’t believe I’m serious, do you?” she smiled as she put out her hand, “Give me your phone, Art.”
“What?” he said but his hand went for his jacket pocket, “Why?”
“Hand it over,” she wiggled her fingers, “You’ll see.”
He’d pulled it out, but it remained balanced in his fingers.
“Don’t play coy, Art,” she laughed, “Unlock it and pass it over. I’m putting my number in your contacts not uploading spyware. I’m not a stalker.”
She plucked his phone from his fingers, input her number and sent herself a text while he watched. It was hard to tell what he was thinking. She’d thrown him a curve ball and she couldn’t deny that part of her had enjoyed watching it push him out of his comfort zone. He wasn’t her type but there was something about Arthur Scott that made her want to delve into the man and see what makes him tick.
“There,” She handed the phone back, “Tomorrow, then?”
“Tomorrow?” he asked with the phone still in his hand.
“We should probably have a second date, to iron out your concerns,” she said in a matter-of-fact voice, “I’ll ring you with the details. My choice, this time.”
She gathered up her coat and bag before dropping her share of the bill in the small tray containing the printout. He hadn’t moved yet. He was still sitting looking at his napkin.
“I am serious, Art,” she was standing, facing the door, “Think about it. If you still think this is a stupid idea, then don’t answer the phone in the morning. We have no obligations to each other, and this is nothing more than idle talk, but if you do want to explore it then I’m willing to discuss it with you.”
“My name is Arthur, not Art,” he grumbled.
“I know,” she smiled as she started towards the door, “But I like Art better.”
She took in a deep breath as she walked out of the restaurant into the night air. He was right. It was an insane, laughable, and totally stupid idea. She hadn’t been in a serious relationship since Ben, and now she was proposing marriage to a stranger? It didn’t make sense. And yet, no matter which way she looked at it, marrying Arthur Scott was the answer to all her prayers.